As questions go, it’s as old as commercial flying! Long haul flights are expensive when it comes to buying tickets for a whole family. Is it worth travelling far enough to warrant a flight with kids, especially if it’s not to visit family living far away? When can you take the first long-haul flight with babies or children?
The best age to start flying with kids is whenever the parents deem it is time; whether it is wanderlust, family ties or business driving the decision. Sometimes circumstances bring that you will have to fly sooner than you feel ready. Most airlines take babies from as young as 2-3 weeks old (unless they were born prematurely.
Choosing to fly long-haul with your kids is down to how prepared, you, the parent is, how challenging you find your baby or child; whether they’ve got any disabilities or developmental issues . (Saying that, neither of these should stop parents from travelling with their children. Parents special needs children will need to be more prepared for all eventualities and prepare in a different way, know their limitations and understand the additional challenges.)
Are you ready to fly long-haul with your child?
Before diving into a long-haul flight, there are some things that you, as a parent, can do to test your travel skills and those of your child:
- Take a long-haul road trip
- Or a long train journey
Why not book to go visit friends or family 4-5 hours away. It’s a trip worth taking: you know you can break up the trip if the circumstances dictate and postpone to later. Such a journey will give you an insight into how you all cope with travel together.
Of course, there are some unknown factors, that you cannot know in advance of actually flying with kids and the biggest challenge is with children who are non-verbal yet and can’t tell you what, if something is wrong.
The dreaded earache, when flying with a baby
The biggest concern for parents flying for the first time with their child is, the child crying from the pain that can come from an inability to equalise the pressure of the middle ears ( the cabin pressure changes are the most sudden during take off and landing). With some well-documented techniques this can easily be overcome:
- Drinking or eating during take-off and landing- be that a bottle, breastfeeding or lollipop for slightly older light ones.
- Yawning: human beings actually mimic other humans yawning. It’s subconscious! So if you yawn in front of your baby, they will most likely, involuntarily, mimic you.
- Worst case scenario: let them cry it out. Crying helps pop the ears through the motion and swallowing.
If the crying persists, then there might be some anatomical reasons why your child just, physically, cannot equalise. This can be a permanent thing, just the way they are or can be due to swelling because of a cold or ear infection. (Check out our tips for what to do about flying with a cold.)
In the rare circumstances, that you baby cannot physically pop their ear to balance the air pressure, they will be in pain and cannot express what is happening, just cry inconsolably.
We had a nearly 12 hour flight from Los Angeles to London ( this was the 2nd leg of the flight from New Zealand to London- 12 hours with a 1.5 hour break in LA) A baby got on at Los Angeles and no not long after take off she started crying; then she kept on crying and crying and crying. The poor parents were exhausted, all the passengers around were exhausted and aggravated. The poor baby was utterly, utterly exhausted. The moment we started descending the baby stopped crying and she fell into a deep, deep sleep. The quiet was almost disconcerting by this point. With hindsight, it’s likely the baby had an inability to equalise and the pain that was must have been excruciating for her. (I was not a mum at the time and didn’t know better.)
Actually, you might not to want to start your travels with a long-haul flight. There is a way you can test the waters with your baby:
- Take a short-haul flight
A short-haul flight will give you the opportunity to test your packing and travel skills with the little one even better.
Parents views on what age to take kids on a long-haul flight
We interviewed a couple of adventurous families, ones who get our and about and travel a lot. What we found was that everyone is very different and makes different decisions about when it is best to start flying long-haul with their child:
“I took my eldest on the first trip abroad when he was 13 months old. The only reason we hadn’t travelled sooner, was that I was constrained to a wheelchair for a pregancy-related condition. In reality, baby, stroller, wheelchair and luggage, it just wasn’t going to happen!
I was, and still am, firmly in the camp of travel with kids whatever their age! Whether it’s road trips across the country, short-haul flights to ski resorts in Europe or long-haul to tick off some of the further-flung destinations from your bucket lists. There is no better time to travel than now.”says Cerys, from Travelled So Far, mum of 2.
Some parents will not embark on long-haul till the children reach a certain age without even testing the flying short-haul.
“I was dreading the plane ride of over 9 hours. I waited until I knew that during the flight, when the kids would be awake, I could keep them occupied with books, magazines and in-flight entertainment.”Phil, a Brit and father of two living in the USA, didn’t take his children to visit the UK until they were both over 5
Parents highlight how every child is different.
One parent, a seasoned traveller herself, was put off long-haul by the horror of one short-haul flight with a screaming toddler. It put them off taking their own kids long haul until they are much, much older, despite having taken her 3 kids on at least 3 short-haul trips a year since their birth.
“Right now flights more than 6 hours with 3 kids seems too daunting to me, so we are sticking short-haul until the youngest hits 5 and can be reasoned with.”Amanda
There are parents who take flying long-haul with kids in their stride
One mum of 4 travelled to her home country (an 11.5-hour flight) with a 9-week-old, a 7-month-old, 14-month-old and a 4-year-old:
“Which child do you think, was the easiest and continues to be the easiest for long-haul flights? The one that travelled first at 9 weeks and has got used to long journeys ever since.”Sam, a South African mum living in the UK
A testament of not letting special needs come in the way of travelling with kids is mum of 4, Shary. She has one child with a serious disability and yet has flown on over 35 long-haul flights with between 1 and 4 children.
“Flying makes it possible see the world and family, especially when you live far away. We’ve lived in Tokyo, Singapore and London but I’m originally from Australia.
Our longest flight to date, has been just over 9 hours to Florida from the UK.
How was it? A dream! We occupied most of a row- the children in the middle seats. I sat next to the children in the aisle. My husband the other side of the aisle and time just flew by.
I swear, the novelty of the in-flight entertainment, personalised TV screens with movies, shows and games meant that a little over 9 hours passed so quickly.Sharyn
On the return journey of the same trip, at night, after a day adventuring, the kids were all asleep before the meal was served.”
Long-haul travel with kids won’t always be a dream.
However, the experiences, the knowledge, cultures and the time we spend together away from daily routines help the family grow, together.
When asked “What is the best age to fly long-haul with kids?